Fabled is a surprisingly strong debut for writer/director Ari Kirschenbaum, a psychotic trip into the mind of a man who is either going crazy, has the world plotting against him, or both. Kirschenbaum throws out all the tricks: moody lighting, an insistent soundtrack, weird camera lighting and everything else to create the paranoid, ominous world of Joseph Fable (Desmond Askew, Repli-Kate, Go). It's a fairly thin story, and some of the plot threads do not play out satisfyingly, but Kirschenbaum does such a good job in getting there that while the ending is forgivable. He begins with a fable, about a wolf and a crow, narrated by Della Askew (Desmond's sister) and accompanied by some strange visuals. The narration cuts in at various points in the story, and the parts of the fable peripherally connect with what Joseph is going through. Kirschenbaum is aiming to creep people out, and it works.

Joseph's life sucks. He just broke up with his girlfriend Liz (Katheryn Winnick, 50 First Dates, What Alice Found), and suspects that she was cheating on him. He just lost his dog, and thinks that everybody at work is plotting against him. Amusingly, when everybody asks about his dog, he thinks it is about Liz. Clearly, something is wrong with him, and his friend Alex (J. Richey Nash, A Pocketfull of Dreams, Fat Chance) believes that it is due to the copious amounts of drugs and alcohol that Joseph consumes. This seems logical enough, but Kirschenbaum uses the lighting, angles, music, and moods to show the viewer how Joseph looks at the world around him. As the events around him become stranger, it forces the viewer to question whether Joseph is really insane or not. Or maybe he is insane and the world is plotting against him. It's an interesting performance by Askew, who acts like the weird guy in the subway that everybody ignores. Somewhere underneath the madness is a normal guy, but whether this person can reemerge is doubtful.

This film is all about mood. Listening to a little girl tell a story about two animals while juxtaposed to Joseph's deteriorating state of sanity effectively takes the 'cute' story and gives it some creepy overtones. There is something wrong with this entire movie, and it feels uncomfortable at times watching, because everybody knows that Joseph is a ticking bomb waiting to go off, and that any little thing may do it. He views everything with extreme suspicion, and almost finds ways to connect what he hears with his paranoid ramblings. A man with a trench coat and hat is following him, and it's never clear if this is real or part of his imagination. This is what makes Fabled so interesting. Kirschenbaum does not tell the viewer what is real and what is fake. Very little actually happens during the film, yet things are so odd that people keep watching to see what will happen. Kirschenbaum almost writes himself into a hole. A great ending would make Fabled a fantastic film, but the ending is not great. It does make sense within the story, but still feels like a let down. But again, this is not necessarily a bad thing. For the duration of Fabled, Kirschenbaum rivets the viewer to Joseph's world of madness.

Mongoose Rates It: Not Bad.
1 hour, 24 minutes, Not Rated but contains minor language and some violence, a PG-13 or R.

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